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Friday, December 20, 2013

Recipes take us back to people and times

Top photo: a sampling of our recipe books and my bread dough headed for the oven. Above, Lyn's most excellent scones, fresh from the oven, waiting to accompany a pot of coffee.

Food, food, food. Holiday season is the season for cooking and eating more, more more. It's also the time Lyn and I haul out our books of recipes – or receipts as they were known long ago. From each of our books and folders, not only recipes but also memories tumble out deliciously. Many of them came from dear friends dating back decades.

We've of course collected myriad recipes from newspapers, magazines and now, the Internet. But the ones that form the strongest ties are those on fading pieces of paper, often hand-written and food-stained.

Over here, there're the recipes for clam and fish chowder from Charlotte of Rockport, Massachusetts, whose New England roots show in every detail of this formula. And whose appreciation for fried salt pork taught this ol' Southerner that we aren't the only ones who enjoy the pig. Like so many dishes, the chowders are, "better after reheated," Charlotte noted. (She also provided a dynamite cough-remedy recipe.)

Over there, in another book, another recipe – one from Ann of East Haddam, Connecticut, whose recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic carries this warning: "Must not attend any neighborhood parties within one week of preparing and ingesting this meal!"

New York Times, March 25, 2007
Here in Georgia, Marguerite, a neighbor when we owned a cabin near Blue Ridge, shared a recipe for "plain tea cakes," saying that they were so good she only got one, while husband Charles helped himself to four.

Lyn's Parker House rolls recipe, always a hit.

Sometimes, the recipe sharer's name is lost in time, like the one called Orgasmic Chocolate Pecan Pie.

And sometimes a recipe that entices on paper never gets made. I love menudo, the classic Mexican dish that includes spicy tripe, chiles and hominy soup. Having dinner (not menudo) with friends, I mentioned my menudo love, and the husband offered to send me his favorite recipe. He did, and I still have it.

I intend to make menudo one of these days. Meanwhile, I haul out the recipe from time to time. As I do the others. They all are part of our culture, like family stories, clothing, furniture. They keep us connected to people, making them live long after they're no longer with us. Some help us recall people who fell out of our lives because they or we moved to distant places or simply because we lost touch. But not really; the recipes keep us connected.

Happy eating.


  1. Isn't this the truth. Recipes bring back events, people all that we hold dear especially during the holidays. This reminds me of a display I made in homage to my Mother. I used recipes in the background hand written by her. Ahhh the memories.

    1. What a fine tribute. Mothers, food, memories; they all come to the surface this time of year.

  2. Wish I could reach in and grab one of those scones to have with my current cup of coffee. You can keep your menudo, though!
    My family really doesn't have any treasured, handed-down recipes. The closest thing I have is a "Fiesta Crab Dip" (made with fake crab) I tried from a magazine years ago. Now my mom asks me to make it every year.
    Happy Holidays to you and Lyn!

    1. Phyllis, I wish you could enjoy one (or a couple) of these scones too. As it is, they're beckoning me to eat them up before they go stale. Thanks on good wishes, and same back on you.

  3. Like you, I have a collection of recipes on paper, written out by hand by departed family members and friends with whom I've lost touch. Looking at them reminds me of the first time I tried the recipe and who was with me for the meal. I have a friend who has has moved all her recipes to her computer. I'm keeping mine just the way they are.

  4. Definitely, you'd lose a lot of the personality, connections, history – the DNA – carried in those recipes if you ran them through the computer. Not to mention the notes in the margins, if you make them.

  5. Hi Lee. Your post reminded me of two of the greatest gifts I've ever received. The first was a three-ring binder that my mother made with all of her recipes -- comfort food from my past. She even organized it with sections: appetizers, side dishes, beef, etc. The second gift was a framed recipe of my partner's Grandmother's cookie recipe -- a holiday tradition. What I love is that the gift cost pennies but is priceless. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a New Year that's full of happiness, health and peace. Bon appetit!

    1. Hey, Kevin,

      Those *are* great gifts. The investment of time, love and passalong tastes are what money can't buy. Here's hoping you're eating too much and heading for Christmas merriment and happiness in 2014.

  6. Tomorrow I'll be baking my third batch of nana's whoopie pies since Thanksgiving. Although it is written down somewhere, it's the only recipe I have memorized and never need to consult. Maybe I should branch out more but whoopie pies remain a much requested fan favorite. Merry Christmas week Lee!

    1. Branching out is much overrated when it comes to eating traditions like that. Don't mess with success and good taste, Sue. Bake away! And, here's to a Merry Christmas and a peaceful 2014. Cheers!

  7. This is the season for all those memories. When my mom downsized to an apartment she was sure to keep her original Betty Crocker cookbook with all the margin notes and recipes from friends stuck between the pages. It's a beautiful thing and good as any novel to her.

    Those scones look yummy. Merry Christmas!

    1. Sounds like the perfectly seasoned cookbook. Good reading, good food. It's already time for another batch of scones.

      Thanks, Merry Merry back to you – and a Happy New Year!

  8. As usual, I enjoyed your post, Lee. Yes, sentimental recipes can certainly bring back memories. Looks like you have lots of treasured recipes. These recipes in the kitchen are kind of like our pass along plants in the garden, aren't they? All the best! May 2014 be our best year yet! :-)

    1. Passalong recipes and passalong plants amount to twin passions in many lives – and generations. Here's to 2014. Cheers! Beth.

  9. Hey Lee,

    Lyn's scones really look yummy. Wish I had one right now with my favorite coffee.

    Passalong recipes like passalong plants really take us back. My Grandmother's tea cakes and my Mother's Brunswick stew are my most special ones. Both being a hundred years old, and none can touch, let alone surpass.

    Memories are the best.

    All best for the New Year to you and yours.

    1. Those scones are mighty addictive, Barbara. As are grandmothers' (Big Mommas') tea cakes.

      You have a prize recipe in that one for Brunswick stew. Recipes for stew have inspired fights between states – Georgia and South Carolina. Now I can throw Alabama into the mix. I'd sure like to be a judge in one of those three-state stew-offs.

      Happy Eating in 2014.

  10. Hey Lee,

    I suspect your Big Momma's tea cake recipe was similar to my grandmother's; simple, mixed in one bowl, butter, sugar, milk and eggs added to the flour and rolled out like biscuits.

    Did Brunswick stew originate in GA, I wonder? Thought I'd share with you. My original is so faded and stained. From the ingredients you can tell the age. My mother trimmed it down more suitable for feeding a family, rather than the community. I love reading the original.

    8 pounds beef, 2 hog heads, 10 hens, 28 tomatoes, 18 cans corn, 5 lbs, potatoes, 3 lbs. onions, tomato puree 1 and 1/2 doz. lemons, vinegar, salt, pepper, and 2 lbs. butter.

    I, too, would loved to have been a judge in the stew-off.

    Happy Eating to you!

    1. Hey, Barbara,

      You suspect right; all ingredients together.

      As for Brunswick stew, the argument over its origin remains. Georgia, Virginia and even the Carolinas claim it. Some even say it's not the real deal unless it has squirrel in it.

      For my part, I think your recipe without the squirrel is most excellent; no squirrel required. Just reading it makes me hungry. Or is it hongry.

  11. Hey, Lee,

    That was what made them so perfect.

    Like you, in my childhood I ate my share of squirrel. But it was never put in Brunswick stew, which was just as well, as it was so wonderful without it.

    'Hongry' is right. That was the way long ago in L A (lower Alabama).

    I want to get up right now and get all the ingredients together. On this rainy, dreary day that would be the best job to do.

    Regardless of which state claims it, it is the best comfort food of all.

  12. You speak truth. Eat on, Barbara.

  13. Hello, Lee, I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas in the best culinary tradition! I had a big Christmas party this year, as I do every year, for all our family and various extensions. There was lots of good food, and soon the talk turned to recipes handed down through the generations. We southerners know how to prepare and eat good food! I wish you the very best in 2014. Happy gardening!


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